Time to End Executions in Belarus, Urges Amnesty International in New Report

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Time to End Executions in Belarus, Urges Amnesty International in New Report

“…every capital execution is one too many.” - Andrea Rigoni from the Council of Europe in an open letter to the authorities in Belarus, 14 April 2008

WASHINGTON - The Belarusian authorities must immediately
declare a moratorium on death sentences and executions with a view to abolishing
the death penalty completely, Amnesty International said in a report published
today.

"The death penalty is the premeditated and
cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of justice.
It violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights," said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia program
director at Amnesty International.

"Governments are obliged to dispense justice
by punishing the guilty and providing redress for the victims and their
relatives. However, executions are a symptom of a culture of violence rather
than a solution to it."

In its report, Ending executions in Europe:
Towards abolition of the death penalty in Belarus,
Amnesty International
builds an argument for the Belarusian authorities to abolish the death
penalty and join the world trend to end capital punishment.

Belarus is the last country in Europe and
the former Soviet Union that is still carrying out executions. There are
no available official statistics for their number, but Amnesty International
estimates that as many as 400 people may have been executed since Belarus
gained its independence in 1991. International bodies have repeatedly called
on Belarus to abolish the death penalty.

The whole process of the death penalty is
shrouded in secrecy-- prisoners and their relatives are not informed about
the date of the execution, the body is not given to the relatives and they
are not told where the burial place is.  

The use of the death penalty in Belarus is
compounded by a flawed criminal justice system. There is credible evidence
that torture and ill-treatment are used to extract "confessions" and
that condemned prisoners do not have access to effective appeal mechanisms.
A young man accused of murder told Amnesty International in October 2008
how he had been beaten constantly for three days and forced to write a
confession.

"A death penalty meted out by an inadequate
and unfair legal system intensifies the inherent danger that an innocent
person may be executed," Duckworth said.

Since gaining independence, the Belarusian
authorities have taken some steps towards ending the death penalty such
as reducing the number of crimes punishable by death. A Constitutional
Court decision in 2004 found that the death penalty was in conflict with
the constitution and that it could be abolished by the President and Parliament.
However, the authorities have not yet demonstrated any political will to
initiate an open and comprehensive public debate on the topic or to make
the necessary legislative changes.

"By abolishing the death penalty Belarus
will reduce its isolation from Europe. Its law enforcement agencies will
be able to focus on the real solutions to the problem of crime without
being distracted by the illusion that capital punishment can be a deterrent,"
Duckworth said.

Background

The information in this report has been gathered
over more than two decades of monitoring the practice of the death penalty
in Belarus. In October 2008, an Amnesty International representative visited
Belarus and met with lawyers, human rights activists, government officials,
and former prisoners. Amnesty International is grateful for the assistance
of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and other human rights activists in
preparing this report. The organization will be working with the Belarusian
Helsinki Committee and other human rights groups to encourage public debate
around the issue of the death penalty in 2009 and hopes that this report
will contribute to that debate.

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Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.

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